Do no harm…?

At the end of Christmas time I settled down to watch what I thought would be one of those typical Channel 4 documentaries called Britain’s Fattest Man. If you missed it the documentary was about Paul Mason who became the world’s heaviest man weighing in at over 440kg (that’s 70 stone or 980lb for all you imperialists)! Not to go through the whole documentary but in essence it was very sad, Paul became this size after suffering a series of devastating blows in his life before becoming addicted to food. He was bedridden and required carers to wash and feed him. Paul was desperate enough to go for a gastric bypass (a procedure that shrinks the available stomach size) which enabled him to shed 120kg in just a matter of months.

Paul Mason 48 years old at a time when he weighed nearly half a tonne

You may ask why I am bothering to blog about this, I had no plans to. It was merely one of those stories we hear about and perhaps relay in a shocked tone to others. The thing that really got me about this documentary was the way people treated Paul. Other than receiving hate mail I was dismayed to see a wealth of articles both online and in newspapers lamenting the cost of Paul’s care and medical treatment. Per year Paul costs slightly over £100,000 to the NHS and over the fifteen or so years Paul has needed this care he has topped over £1,000,000. Reading through some comments online I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were advocating Paul either not receiving this care or not deserving it. This is a bit of a problem for me, I believe in social healthcare. I think medicine should be a right not a privilege.  There’s two dangerous mentalities here, one is that if you don’t contribute you don’t deserve (ridiculous, what about students, mentally ill, prisoners and those down on their luck) and the other is that if you did it to yourself you don’t deserve help. To me that’s a pretty slippery slope to start on.

It is possible to go through your whole life without smoking or exposing yourself to any airborne carcinogens and still get lung cancer. The following numbers aren’t real but they illustrate a real point; out of 100 non smokers 20 get lung cancer and out of 100 smokers 60 get lung cancer. Now out of those 60 smokers with cancer 1 in 3 could have contracted the disease independent of their smoking. If we adopt the mentality of “you don’t deserve healthcare if you did it to yourself” we have to deny or charge for care for 40 of them. But it’s impossible to tell! Do we just deny all of them because they took a risk? Even though every third man didn’t cause it themselves? This principle is very damaging and whilst I don’t condone Paul Mason eating himself to that size I certainly don’t think he is any less deserving than a healthy taxpaying member of society. The whole philosophy of social healthcare is that those who can contribute so that all can receive any and every medicine or treatment that they require.

What do you think? Is Paul justified in receiving medical treatment? At the end of the day would you rather live in a society which takes care of those in need or one that dismisses those who can’t help themselves?

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  1. #1 by Jodie Cudworth on January 19, 2011 - 10:12 am

    The reason people argue that Paul shouldn’t receive care is because Pauls weight is beyond contemplation to most people, he is a rare kinda guy (and at the same time more and more people are becoming overweight)! When obesity is more common than it already is people will undoubtedly change their attitudes! Like you said smoking is very common and most people would agree that a smoker should receive treatment. Should we wait until obesity is out of control before treating it? I don’t think so, the purpose of the show was to expose the health risks associated with obesity, maybe people should start pointing the finger at irresponsible food manufacturers! Everyone makes mistakes and it seems Paul learned from his later than most, but learnt it nevertheless! 🙂

  2. #2 by RedXIII on January 19, 2011 - 10:27 am

    I am lamenting the subtle change in societys mentality that is turning people against social provision of healthcare. This is exacerbated by the tories persistent attempts to bring in privatisation and ‘competition’ into the NHS, as evidenced by their recent healthcare bill. Were not America and I’m glad the NHS is free for everybody at the point of use.

    /end rant

  3. #3 by Tarek on January 19, 2011 - 11:19 am

    What if he cost say £1,000,000 per year to care for? Would your opinion change? Or maybe £10 million? Is there a limit on the amount it costs until you draw the line?

    Not advocating removing his care, just curious.

    • #4 by ryanbegleyonline on January 19, 2011 - 12:15 pm

      An interesting point, how much somebody costs is a slightly different issue. The principles I have a problem with are the “Did it to yourself” and “Don’t contribute”. Most therapies in the NHS are given on the basis of being affordable, if something is too costly (i.e. the money could be better spent elsewhere) then it generally wont be allowed.

  4. #5 by Twinkle on January 19, 2011 - 2:41 pm

    Greetings, I think Paul needs the treatment and should get it. Yes, the therapy is expensive but so are other therapies. Personally, NHS finance is so complex that even some NHS Managers have great difficulty understanding it. Maybe if better financial controls were put in place to stop significant salary overpayments and overseas patients staggering debts, there will be enough funds to spend on real patient care.

    • #6 by ryanbegleyonline on January 22, 2011 - 1:01 pm

      I agree Twinkle, if better management can release more funds for people then they deserve to get it.

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